Fantastic Quick New Year’s Trip to Guatemala!

Old Jan 10th, 2021, 09:15 AM
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Fantastic Quick New Year’s Trip to Guatemala!

We took a very last minute trip to Guatemalaand it was wonderful! Neither one of us had been to the country and we chose it because of that reason and its exemplary COVID protocol. With only 6 days, we chose to stay three days at Lake Atitlan and three days in the beautiful colonial city of Antigua. I want to thanks the folks who chimed in on the trip, especially on TA as you really helped to positively shape the time we had in country.

We flew to the country on Delta Airlines from the New York City area, connecting through Atlanta. Up one getting to the airport, we had to show a negative COVID test within the last 72 hours and a government document that had to be filled out resulting in a QR code. When we got to the gate, we had to show these documents again. In Atlanta, we had to show them once again, plus get a temperature check right before boarding. Upon landing, we showed the documents again and were temp checked once more. Before I get into what we did during our stay, I just want to say that the COVID protocol in the country is exemplary. No matter where we went, whether it was a restaurant, museum, monument, store, you received a temperature check, had to hand sanitize and foot sanitize as well. You also had to have a surgical mask or a N95 type mask in multiple establishments. The cute masks did not cut it. And everyone was masked. From the two year old to the 92 year old – everywhere we went, people were always masked.

Day One

Once we landed in Guatemala City, we were picked up and transported to Lake Atitlan. I had a mishap where I lost my cell phone and our driver/guide took us to a place to buy a new phone before getting on the road. This driver/guide was fantastic, ensuring that we learned a lot about the history and culture during our drive. We would use him again to pick us up and take us to Antigua and for tours once there. He was amazing and I highly recommend. His name is Carlos Mijangos of Guatemalan Guide. You can find him on trip advisor and at At the lake, we stayed at Casa Palopo in San Antonio Palopo. It is a beautiful boutique hotel with gorgeous views, very special rooms — each one different from the next, amazing food and wonderful service. We enjoyed every moment. Once we checked in, we just relaxed on our balcony, went to have drinks on the patio while watching the sunset and the enjoying a wonderful outdoor dinner.

Day Two

To explore the villages around the lake, we used a wonderful young local guide by the name of Salvador. His company is Tour Guide Salvador and we enjoyed him very much. You can look him up at On our first morning, we took the three village tour to Santiago Atitlan, San Juan and Panajachel. We were picked up by boat at the hotel dock. We had a wonderful time. It was market day in Santiago, so we took our time going through and experiencing the beauty of the market. We also went to a private home which was housing a very sacred religious ceremony. Each year a different family is chosen to host. After looking around, we left a tip in appreciation. Santiago also has a very old and beautiful church that we visited as well. But the true highlight of Santiago was watching everyday life of the wonderful people living in this village.

We then went to the artist haven of San Juan. San Juan was not initially on our itinerary and I am so glad that TA folk spoke up and told me to drop San Marcus for San Juan. We spent hours in this beautiful village. We visited a coffee shop / farm and enjoyed sitting around and talking to the workers. We then went to the chocolate factory which was also informative. But the best time was spent at several women weaving cooperatives. Learning about the techniques and buying beautiful items for family and friends was a highlight. We also visited several art galleries and spent time talking and engaging with artist. It was lovely. This island has a beautiful church as well that we visited. On the way back to the boat, we decided to have a drink at a bar. That turned into being hungry so we went back to the coffee shop. Turns out that they make amazing tacos! We had a great time drinking margaritas, eating tacos and watching the world go by. By the time, we left we decided to leave the last village until the following day, especially since we needed to go there to visit a market anyway. Once back at our hotel, we again enjoyed drinks as we watched the sun set and had another wonderful dinner.

Day Three

We were again picked up Salvador and went by boat to Panajachel. We were then met by a driver who took us to Solola to visit the market. Wow we had a wonderful time! We went on market day and it did not disappoint. You should know that I really wanted to go to ChiChi market, but was rightly advised not to as it did not fit naturally into our itinerary. Based on the local markets we saw in Antigua, outside of Antigua, Santiago, plus Solola, I feel that we were able to have amazing authentic experiences. I was just in awe of the vibrancy of the market, the goods and the people. We walked slowly through every floor and we could not have enjoyed it more. I have fantastic pictures. Once we left the market, we walked around town — nothing in particular — just taking in the sights and sounds. We then drove back to Panajachel, stopping at an overlook with spectacular views. Once back, we took the boat to Santa Cruz where we started a wonderful walk/light hike. Based on safety and my knee has a torn meniscus, I did not want to hike the volcano. We hiked all the way to San Marcus and it was perfect. Other than the views, another highlight was stripping at small women’s weaving cooperative. Loved shopping there and supporting the community. The boat met us at the end of the hike and we once again went back to the hotel for drinks. We had appetizers with our drinks prior to going to dinner. On this night it got a bit chilly, so we had our dinner inside in front of the fireplace, each of us sitting in a comfy chair.

Day Four

The next day Carlos picked us up at 10:00 am to transfer us to Antigua. Once there, we checked into the beautiful Las Cruces Boutique Hotel. We had a wonderful room which overlooked ruins. After setting in, we walked around the town with no particular plan which was lovely. We had a bite to eat at Fonda de la Calle Realand that started my love of Guatemalan soups. The chicken and rice soup was to die for! That night we had dinner at El Refectorio which was sensational. The restaurant has a beautiful ambiance and we really enjoyed our meal. It is located within another beautiful hotel and the wonderful thing is that it was walking distance from our hotel.

Day Five

We started at about 10:00 am with Carlos for a walking tour of Antigua and had a fantastic time. Of course, the highlight of the city is the ruins that permeate the whole city and which are beautifully restored. We genuinely enjoyed visiting each and every one of them and hearing the stories of what they were, when they were destroyed and how they have been preserved. We also went to the Mercato ad this was also a highlight. You literally cross one street and there is not a tourist in sight. It was lovely to walk around and just witness Guatemalans doing their daily shopping. We also took a fun peek at the local McDonalds and Taco Bell, only because Carlos knew we would get a kick of them being located within beautiful colonial buildings and the beauty of the colors, landscaping and design of the outdoor seating. And he was right, it is not how we do fast food in America! We also went to the Jade Museum and while we did not buy anything, it was nice to spend 30 minutes learning about the trade. It was a great leisurely day and we finished about 3:30 PM. After we left Carlos we dropped our things off at the hotel and headed to Frida’s. Love, love, love Frida’s! It is a great, fun, colorful spot with the best margaritas, soups and tacos! We spent an hour and a half or so just hanging and people watching before going back to our hotel for a rest before dinner. Day 5 happened to be New Year’s Eve, so we had dinner reservations at Mesón Panza Verde, which is one of the most beautiful, romantic restaurants that I have ever had the pleasure to dine. Everything was perfect. We sat at a table for two in a beautiful indoor/outdoor corridor beside a beautiful fountain built into a wall of ruins. There was a fantastic live quartet with a wonderful singer and guitar player and the service was excellent. Our food was also delicious. I had a wonderful mussel and squid appetizer, followed by lobster sautéed in Guatemalan flavors. It was a lovely evening. We walked back to the hotel and opened the large windows overlooking ruins, drank champagne and waited for the fireworks. And boy, they did not disappoint! Antigua put on an amazing display of fireworks which was a great way to ring in the New Year! And then of course, we listened to firecrackers for the rest of the night and throughout the next day culminating in lots of noisy celebrations at noon!

Day 6

This day, we headed outside of Antigua to explore nearby villages. And while we did not have to go far, I was amazed by the differences in each village. We went to San Juan Obispo, San Pedro Las Huertas, Cuidad Vieja and San Antonio Aguas Callientes. In San Juan Obispo, we visited St. John’s Church which is an active church with beautiful colonial architecture. Service was going on when we were there, and in addition, to taking in the beauty of the church, we sat inside for 20 minutes or so to listen to an absolutely beautiful singer accompanied by a lone guitar. Stunning! We also visited the first Bishop’s Palace which was restored in 1962. Beautiful colonial architecture and learned about the Bishop being the first bishop in the town. It was a great first stop.

We then headed to San Pedro Las Huertas, where there was an active town square and we watched women washing their clothes at the communal washing stations set up for their use free of charge. It was fun watching them enjoy each other’s company as they washed their clothes in the beautiful town square surrounded by gorgeous trees and flowers. We also visited a church built in rebuilt in 1672 as the façade replaced the original built in 1541.

We then headed to San Antonio Aguas Callientes and this was a highlight. This is an old purely Mayan town and we visited on market day which was a joy. We spent our time here just perusing the vibrant market and buying beautiful textiles. Unlike when we were at the lake where we bought items already made into bags, scarves, shawls, etc., here we bought just yards and yards of beautiful fabric. And what was also wonderful is that we were the absolute only tourists in town, so it was an amazingly authentic visit. There was also a raffle going on in the market to win a live pig. It was lots of fun watching people enter and the person who was leading it shout to all of the people over his microphone. It was lively, colorful, vibrant and wonderfully unique for us. A great time!

We then drove through Cuidad Vieja, which is the was the second capital of the Guatemalan Kingdom. It was founded in 1527 and only lasted 14 years as a volcano eruption destroyed the city. Lastly, we went to a tiny town with a beautiful old church — the oldest in Guatemalan built in 1524. Our tour guide used to live there and knew the mayor, so we had a lovely conversation on the town square talking about the history of the church while watching everyday life go by.

It was an absolute great day! Once back in Antigua, we headed straight back to Frida’s for more fabulous drinks and soups and tacos. I had an absolutely amazing spicy Mexican soup. I must try to recreate it at home! We again took a siesta after this at the hotel before heading to dinner at Las Estancia. This was an interesting restaurant with great fire grilled steaks. The owner is French and the chef is Swiss, having moved to Guatemala 25 years ago. We had a nice conversation with the chef who told us about his life in Guatemala and why he came for two months and never left.

Day 7

On our last morning, we had a nice Champagne breakfast. Oh, I forgot to mention that the breakfast at Las Cruces Boutique hotel are sooo good. I had the same thing every morning. It was a Guatemalan eggs Benedict with a poached egg, chorizo sausage, avocado, tomato and an amazing sauce. This was accompanied by retired black beans, a chorizo hash and plantains. So, so good! This hotel also has amazing art and religious artifacts. It is a small and stunning place. After breakfast, we were picked up by Carlos at 10:00 am to go to Guatemala City to depart. One of us had to get a COVID test to travel on to France, so we stopped at Blue Medical for a PCR test that was back in 4 hours. Great, clean, safe and efficient medical establishment. Our flight back was easy breezy. It was a wonderful, wonderful trip. I cannot wait to go back to travel longer, deeper and harder!

Fabulous spicy chicken soup at Frida’s in Antigua.

One of the oldest churches in Central America outside of Antigua. Built in 1534.

A gorgeous church seen outside of Antigua.

A mother and child in San Antonio Aguas Calientrs. We bought textiles from her mother.

Beautiful church just 10 minutes outside of the city of Antigua.

Fantastic guacamole at Frida’s!

Chicken bus!

Ruins inside of Antigua.

Breakfast at Las Cruces Boutique Hotel.

Chicken soup at Fonde de la Calle Real in Antigua.

Breakfast at Casa Palopo.

View of Lake Atitlan.

Solola Market at the Lake.

Solola Market

Man in the market.

Great veggies!

Mayan women leaving the market.

Learning about weaving at a cooperative on the lake.

Learning about chocolate at the lake.

Visiting a painting studio on the lake.

Traffic in Solola.

Coffee beans.

Dried seafood at the market.

Beautiful veggies.

Mayan woman selling outside of the market.

Beautiful Mayan woman outside her shop.
Lolazahra is offline  
Old Jan 10th, 2021, 10:53 AM
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Gracias ! Very interesting trip report, and I just love your pictures. It is all very enticing and am starting to think that this should be on my list of future destinations. I am assuming that you felt quite safe the whole time, getting around, walking back to hotel after dinner etc. It does sound as if these places are not overly touristy, i.e. a significant part of the local economy is not hugely focused solely on tourism (not sure I am reading this right).

Lucky that you were able to go in these trying times.
kanadajin is offline  
Old Jan 10th, 2021, 11:14 AM
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We did feel quite safe. In fact, never felt unsafe. Of course, while even in Antigua there were people out and about after dinner. We were not out late at the Lake, but I will tell you that never once did I feel insecure even in places were we were absolutely the only tourists. The Guatemalan people were welcoming, lovely and charming. And I do feel blessed to have traveled during this trying time. It’s a total personal choice but I felt like we made decisions to stay as safe as possible. We have COVID tested twice now upon return and have remained negative. I highly recommend adding it to your list of places to go!
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Old Jan 10th, 2021, 04:33 PM
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Nice report. Thanks for the effort. Stirs some memories for us. The locals affectionately referred to Panajachel as "gringotenango", lol. We were in Panajachel and were told that the patterns on the men's trousers indicated which tribe/group they were from. Which caused some to avoid each other on the street because of conflicts. We remember Frida's, Gallo beer, and the challenge of finding coffee other than instant for the first couple of days. But that's been probably 20 years? Such a beautiful country and people. A good read on Guatemala 's turbulent history is "A Beauty That Hurts". Time to go back!

Last edited by baldone; Jan 10th, 2021 at 04:38 PM.
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Old Jan 10th, 2021, 07:42 PM
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Thanks for the report, Lolazahra!

I also have enjoyed travelling in Guatemala. A country of truly stellar beauty. I love the history and colonial beauty of Antigua. In the age of CoVid, I’m picturing less of a foreign tourist presence, which I imagine might give Antigua a more local energy, making the town perhaps even more alluring than usual?
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Old Jan 10th, 2021, 07:55 PM
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LOVE your photos!

This shows how some travel is possible -- it may be limited but with rapid covid testing and individual countries entry requirements, the opportunities are out there.
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